Australia Sends a Frigate to Assist N. Korea Sanctions Enforcement

HMAS Arunta (Australian Defence Force)

Published Nov 6, 2022 12:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia has deployed a frigate to help with the enforcement of sanctions on North Korea, a policy with high priority for Australia's allies after Pyongyang's recent ballistic missile tests and its suspected arms transfers to Russia.

The Anzac-Class frigate HMAS Arunta has been dispatched to assist with the deterrence and monitoring of illegal STS transfers of goods headed into the North Korean market, according to the Australian Defence Force. The Royan Australian Navy participates on a long-term basis under the ADF's Operation Argos, the nation's commitment to support UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea's nuclear program. 

“Alongside Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who all conduct national operations in support of the UN in a similar manner to Australia, we are demonstrating our commitment to enforcing UNSC sanctions against North Korea,” said Air Vice-Marshal Michael Kitcher, Deputy Chief of Joint Operations.

North Korea has been using illicit ship-to-ship transfers for years to skirt UN sanctions on the country’s oil imports and coal exports, A UN Panel of Experts report released in September shows that this trade continues to thrive, providing support for the regime's nuclear weapons program. The report also shows the challenge of enforcement: in general, the same shipping entities, networks and vessels continue to operate unhindered, using the same methodologies and in the same places. 

The area around Ch’o-do Island, about 25 nm to the south-west of Nampo, is a particularly busy area for illicit ship-to-ship transfers. Satellite images have shown that some of the transfers occur in three-ship configurations with vessels of different sizes, along with possible floating cranes. 

Weapons transfers

The United States government believes that North Korea is also selling arms to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, using shipments to nations in the Middle East and Africa to cover its tracks. The administration has previously reported that Russia is in talks with North Korea about buying Soviet-standard artillery shells, which would be compatible with Russia's guns. 

“Our indications are [North Korea] is covertly supplying and we’re going to monitor to see whether shipments are received [by Russia],” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a press conference on Wednesday. 

At the press conference, a State Department spokesman promised that the administration would redouble its efforts to enforce sanctions on Pyongyang. The next day, the department offered a new $5 million reward for a Singaporean businessman who has been indicted for aiding trade with North Korea. The fugitive, shipowner Kwek Kee Seng, allegedly sold fuel to North Korea using multiple STS transfers.

The Singapore Police Force said Saturday that Kwek is still in Singapore and is under investigation by the city-state's Commercial Affairs Department. His passport has been revoked since 2021, and U.S. law enforcement has been kept apprised of his case. The agency is seeking clarification from the U.S. about the sizable State Department bounty, and it said that it would continue to cooperate to the extent allowed by law.